I have been thinking about some broad trends in Organisational Learning, and sketched up this as a summary: it’s not intended to be definitive, but rather to indicate broad strokes, and to contextualise this as part of the move into the Social Age.
Codification: a big focus of Learning in legacy Organisations was to reduce complexity to ordered simplicity. What was it that people needed in order to be effective, and what were the ways to break that complexity down into constituent parts, to record it, and to push it into other peoples brains. Codification represented knowledge as a traceable and tradable commodity, and the primacy of systems that could capture and order it. Arguably this has been replaced by systems that can ‘find and sense make’ it: networks and communities, dealing in new types of knowledge that often defied simple codification.
Centralisation: centralised structures dominated early globalisation, with concurrent flows of stories outwards and back to the centre. But this reinforced cultural fragmentation and colonial models of growth, and has been largely eclipsed by distributed capability (driven by network effects) and fragmented capability (driven by outsourcing and cost cutting as markets adapt to need). The Social Age is represented by broadly distributed knowledge, and decentralised power, held in structures that sit alongside, not fully within, the parent Organisation. Sometimes i describe these as multi-dimensional: formal plus multi layered social structures.
Conformity: a broad view of learning used to be one of conformity, whilst today it may be more about diversity. Models of teaching and assessment relied on replication to move to scale, whilst today we rely more on social aggregation and amplification to carry to scale. In that sense, older models of learning and development were fully premised on a ‘push’ through the system, whilst newer ones rely on us pulling.
Infrastructure: once a mainstay of Organisational being, infrastructure is increasingly something deconstructed and eroded in the quest for agility. The heavyweight systems of the past were largely a feature of the maturity of coding, and the lack fo defined market, whilst today we see much more lightweight technology running on common backbones, or possible due to the increased portability of data. Essentially we exist in diverse ecosystems of technology that are increasingly social in ownership, and hence trusted further. One other point: legacy Organisations were often hampered by complexity: the pioneering technology they once owned now stagnated into improper models of data management and held within power structures that constrain change.
Collaboration: moving to the other side of the model, a real trend is towards collaboration, and Complex Collaboration. Collaboration is about operating with those people you know, doing the things you know how to do, whilst Complex Collaboration means interconnecting into capability you have no current access to, to face unknown, or radically complex, challenges. The co-creation that we seek as part of Social Leadership is a function of this, and it typically moves beyond individual Domains. Building the capability to collaborate at scale will often form a central theme of the ‘future learning’ skills that Organisations discuss, but in reality it often relates to overcoming constraints that are put into place by the Organisation itself.
Capability: i think there is an increasing focus on individual capability, and agency, at scale. The ability of the individual to progress the common story, but also to act as a meaningful weak voice in the system. So not mindless repetition, or unquestioning action, but rather capability built upon thoughtful and reflective practice. Again, this feeds into plenty of Organisational language about change: how we ‘build’ the skills of the new learner, when perhaps we need instead to think more about how we support, or act in service of, them.
Change: a common theme is the need for change, but sometimes lacking a recognition that the first thing we have to change is ourselves. The Social Age provides a foundational shift in the context of change itself: modern learning Organisations will recognise this and address inequalities of power, and create opportunity, accordingly.
Agility: the byword for change is ‘agility’, and i think a broad trend in learning is towards the knowledge, skills, behaviours, and ability to reframe, that define it. Agility is not necessarily a specific skill, but rather a capability of analysis, and fluidity of response. Sometimes i will describe it not as the ability to solve a problem today, in one way, but rather the ability to solve it again tomorrow in a different way. It’s about the experiential building of rehearsed capability, well suited to Social Learning, and simulation, based approaches to learning.